The space shuttle launches in March. Would you like a call when it soars over your backyard? Spaceweather PHONE!
AURORA MYSTERY MISSION: Scientists have been studying auroras for centuries, and you might suppose there's no mystery left in the Northern Lights. Wrong. Sometimes, with no warning, gently shimmering pale auroras erupt in a riot of wildly-shifting colors. This is called an "auroral substorm" and no one knows what causes it.
Later today (6:01 pm EST), NASA plans to launch a fleet of five satellites into Earth orbit. The name of the mission is THEMIS and its goal is to crack the mystery of the substorm. In the process, researchers hope to learn new things about Earth's magnetosphere. (continued below)
Photo credit: Mike Theiss of UltimateChase.com
Photographer Mike Theiss snapped this picture of THEMIS waiting for launch at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb 16th. All five satellites are tucked inside that single Delta rocket. Once in space, they'll spread out and begin mapping substorm activity from above.
"The next picture you see will show THEMIS in flight," says Theiss. Stay tuned!
February Aurora Gallery
[aurora alerts] [night-sky cameras]
MIRA VARIABLE: "Last night after sunset, the sky was very clear so I went to a small castle near Stuttgart, the town where I live," says Stefan Seip. "I was surprised to see a new star in the constellation Cetus. Yes, it was Mira!"
Photo details: Canon EOS 1Ds, Canon EF 16-35mm lens, ISO 800, 10 seconds
Mira is a red giant 420 light years from Earth. The entire star expands and contracts every 320 days or so, brightening from invisibility to 2nd magnitude and back again. At its peak--right now--the star is big enough to swallow our entire solar system out to Mars.
Go outside at sunset, face west and take a look. You may be seeing the future. Some astronomers believe the Sun will become a Mira-variable when it evolves to red gianthood five billion years from now. [finder chart]
EXTRA: On Valentine's Day, Pete Lawrence was in Tromso, Norway, and photographed "Mira the Wonderful" shining through the aurora borealis: image. "If you're going to photograph Mira, you might as well do it in style!" he says.